The Internet is Everywhere in General, and a Few Places in ParticularBy Kim Gaskins July 30, 2010
The Rise of Polylocal Community Participation
Earlier this year, Latitude Research conducted a study to determine how individual, cognitive notions of “local” and human connectivity are evolving. We found that nearly half of all study participants were interested in locating geographically-specific news and information outside of their own region, and that heavy users of online content were significantly more likely to consider their own community an amalgam of several geographically disparate communities.
Individuals are becoming increasingly more hyperlocal as they become more polylocal–both of which are concepts tied to the physicality of a location. However, individuals themselves are less grounded to their physical locations, with regard to simple ease of mobility as well as information interests, and so the notion of community has become, for many, almost entirely divorced from that of geography.
Joining local communities not your own
The ubiquity of the web has rendered a once one-way relationship (geography defines a community) an exponentially more complex system of connective possibilities. For example, I may care to follow or participate in several remote local communities because I once resided in them (or made friends passing through); I was introduced (virtually or otherwise) to friends of a friend who reside there; or I take an interest in the culture or current happenings of particular locales because I read about them online, even if, perhaps, I’ve never been to them.
But these are merely reasons that I might remotely “join” a geographically-centered community that’s not my own.
Localizing digital communities
There are communities online, such as Twitter, that weren’t grown from local roots in the way that, say, Facebook was–they’re online communities, centered around the exchange and dissemination of information primarily (not overlooking social networking draws or entertainment content) that attract geographically dispersed audiences.
However, the bottom-up local bug (in the case of Twitter, for example) ensures that tweet-ups are incredibly prevalent–and now drawing larger crowds from increasingly broader radii.
The objective here isn’t to join a geographically defined community–none of the local attributes (i.e. local culture) matter, for the most part; geography only serves as one point of connection for people in these digitally-based communities. These communities are held together, primarily, by common interests, and sustained by a sense of goal-oriented purpose or simple congeniality over time.
However, I can 1) cognitively sub-delineate my information-communities into local communities, 2) expand my own local community (many cities have a Social Media Club; or simply sending a general tweet and some direct messages is the new “telephone,” which often ends in a down-to-earth happy hour at the neighborhood bar), 3) become part of new, remote local communities (via existing contacts in those geographic communities). In my own experience, location-aware social networking platforms with highly visual components, such as Brightkite (which allows users to post photographs based upon their real-time locations), have been integral in texturizing communications from friends in other locales and remotely building out a sense of community in those places.
So, with the space between you and I rapidly dissolving, why care about “local” at all?
1) We’re still people who occupy physical spaces and places.
2) As a means of communication and of experience, storytelling has always been important; the Internet provides individuals with more opportunities to share their narratives. Life narratives about everyday experiences, that is. (Here’s a little urban poetry in Papervision 3D.)
Furthermore, while individual stories form a substantive dimension, most of mainstream media is still ever-so-slowly catching onto the importance of storytelling through non-traditional means as well.
3) The world is getting smaller. I can care about other remote locations, because the Internet makes it so. And I want to, because it’s interesting. Hopefully, that the world is getting smaller means that individuals have the opportunity to get smarter–through connections with new people and experiences with content, media, and perspectives endemic to locales not their own.
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